Category Archives: Feast of the Guardian Angels

Shine

September this week transitions to October. The transition is overseen by shining beings, an abundance of angels, for these are days traditionally given to angels: In three days’ time, on October the 2nd, we celebrate the Feast of the Guardian Angels, and today, the 29th of September, brings the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel––a day better known as Michaelmas.

The one that comes later is more personal, a day set aside to honor our personal guardian angels. It is a very old tradition, one that dates to the Fourth Century, when folks began setting up altars in their homes on the feast in honor of their angelic protectors. And I wonder sometimes about the strange coincidences in life. Like just yesterday at work, while I was looking for something completely unrelated in the closet, I happened upon a pile of sheet music. Where it came from, I could not tell you, but there it was: sheet music for old Italian songs like “O Sole Mio” and “Funiculì, Funiculà” and a traditional Neapolitan Tarantella, and beneath these, a book of old Frank Sinatra tunes. What’s so strange about this? Well, tomorrow my mom and sister and Seth and I: we are heading down to the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society there on the New River to build an ofrenda for the upcoming Day of the Dead festival. The ofrenda we’re building is meant to honor all our family, but especially the musicians, like Grandpa, who taught himself to play guitar and mandolin, and Uncle Phil, who played accordion, and both of Seth’s grandmas, who played piano and organ. But mostly this is about my Aunt Anne, who passed away in July. Aunt Anne traveled the world with the USO during World War II playing accordion for the troops. We’re calling our ofrenda “Thank You for the Music,” and I had gathered some random sheet music to place on the altar––I found some Bach, some Mozart… but none of my family played classical music. They played old Italian folk songs, and they played Frank Sinatra songs. Who placed that sheet music in the closet when we’ve been closed for a year and a half? Has it been there all this time? How did I manage to find it just yesterday? Say what you will about guardian angels… I do feel, very often, well looked after. What if it’s always the same being helping me out? And what if it’s not a human being so much as a shining being?

The shining is handed down through centuries of etymology, and my favorite aspect of these days when we honor the angels around us is the chance to recite a litany of shining names. The feast that comes today––Michaelmas (pronounced mick-il-mus)––begins with Michael the Archangel but has come to honor angels in general. Various traditions across cultures will honor today Michael as well as his other archangel companions, Gabriel and Raphael. Still others will include Uriel, Raguel, Ramiel, and Sariel. I love these names; they roll past my lips in an ancient and mysterious tongue, and the further down the roster we go, the more mysterious the names become. To speak them is to cross a fascinating linguistic bridge to the past. The “-el” suffix of these angelic names is Sumerian in origin, signifying “brightness” or “shining,” names that in their true form would be Micha-el, Gabri-el, Rapha-el, Uri-el, Ragu-el, Rami-el, Sari-el. The list goes on: Camael, Jophiel, Zadkiel, and Anael, Simiel and Oriphiel, then on to Metatron, Israfil, and Malak al-Maut. It is a walk across an ancient bridge of etymology that connects to the Akkadian ilu (radiant one), Babylonian ell (shining one), Old Welsch ellu (shining being), Old Irish aillil (shining), Anglo-Saxon aelf (radiant being), and English elf (shining being).

Michaelmas is traditionally a night for a dinner of roast goose, and afterward, roasted nuts. But it is the humble blackberry that is most traditional for this day: In Scotland, there are Struan Micheil, Michaelmas bannocks, somewhat like a scone but more of a flatbread, cut into wedges, comprised of equal parts oats, barley, and rye, and traditionally made without the use of metal: wooden fork, wooden or ceramic bowl, baking stone. The bannocks are served with blackberries or blackberry jam, for it was Michael the Archangel who battled Satan, the fallen angel, and when Satan fell to Earth, it was in a bramble patch––a blackberry patch––that he landed. Legend has it that each year after Michaelmas, Satan returns to curse and spit upon the brambles that he landed upon, which is not so surprising: Bramble patches are thorny and painful. You’d probably curse and spit upon them, too, if you fell into a bramble patch. Be that as it may, many people will not eat blackberries after Michaelmas for this reason, and so they’ll eat their fill of the plump, juicy berries today.

If you’ve not been in a bramble patch and are wondering why Satan was so infuriated at landing in one, well… I wrote about my experience foraging for blackberries in an essay that was published in 2009 in a magazine called My Table. It’s Houston’s dining magazine. I’m pretty sure it’s ok if I republish it here for you today…. as a Michaelmas gift, if you will.

 

B L A C K B E R R I E S
The sun is warm, and the blackberries are ripening in Maine. I see them along the roadside each day as I walk past, and today, the call is too alluring. Back home in Florida I’d have to pay three bucks or more for just a half pint tray at Publix, and here, so many wild berries, free for the taking.

Amongst the berries, with my stainless steel colander filling nicely, my mind wanders and I begin to think of blackberry jam, and blackberry pie, and I even wonder about blackberry Jell-O. And I am amazed at how little competition I have. No one else is here. No neighbors, no signs of birds gorging or raccoons foraging. Just branches laden heavy with fruit. And thorns––I notice thorns, though they seem harmless enough.

From the house, I hear a call for lunch. “One minute,” I yell. The colander’s pretty full, but there’s always one more berry I’m after. And there they are, at the deepest edge of the roadside woods: the plumpest berries yet, near bursting with juice. My adrenaline spikes. I make my way carefully through the plants, but still one leg or the other sometimes catches on the brambles. Shorts were probably a bad idea.

The berries are half the size of my thumb and they give gently as I pull and gather them, while the plants, relieved of their heavy burden, spring upwards in the dappled sunlight. I picture myself in a painting by one of the French Impressionists. Surely they painted berry pickers.

There’s a buzzing in my ear, and from the house, another call to lunch, as more plump berries turn up beneath a leafy branch. I lean for them, careful not to spill the contents of the colander, but distraction sets in: My legs are beginning to itch. I look down and notice swarming mosquitoes from the cool woods, the plague of my days in Maine. Torn between swatting and gathering, I attempt to swat one leg with the other as I lean in further for the berries. But as I lean, something tugs at my shirt. It’s the thorns. They’ve got me to where it would be painful to press on or to pull back. I press on. I find the thorns actually have a good enough grip on my shirt that they can support me as I lean in for another handful of berries. But then I lose my footing, slip down a small embankment, while, for better or worse, the thorns still hold their grip, as I cling tightly to the colander.

Finally I do have to pull back. The tugging on my shirt ceases as suddenly as it began as a fierce Velcro sound tears through the sylvan wooded quiet. I tense for a moment, then wonder at the pleasing cool breeze across my left arm. It feels good, but it’s blowing through a new, large gash in my sleeve. The cloth dangles at the elbow, and I realize, too, that my arms and legs are stinging. I make my way out as the bramble patch lays claim to more and more of my clothing and bare skin, and finally stumble out onto the roadside, mosquito-bit and briar-scratched, clutching my colander full of berries.

My neighbor, Mr. Knapp, drives past in his old Ford pickup. He stops, then backs up to where I’m standing. “You all right?” he asks. He is Maine born and bred, a man economical with his words. “I’m ok,” I reply. I manage a nervous smile. Mr. Knapp nods, and the engine sputters as he shifts the truck out of reverse. As he drives off, I think I see him rolling his eyes. I make my way back to the house in the wake of his exhaust. I can taste blood on my lip, and I can almost taste blackberry pie.

Image: Detail from “Christ in the Arms of Two Angels” by Juan de Juanes. Oil on panel, c. 16th century. [Public domainvia Wikimedia Commons.

 

CHOOSE YOUR SALE!
At our online Convivio Book of Days Catalog, take your choice this week of two sales we are running. First up: Mom is turning 95 on Saturday, and to celebrate, we’re having a sale on her Millie’s Tea Towels line of hand embroidered flour sack tea towels. Save $9.50 when you buy any four of Millie’s Tea Towels (or one 7-day set), and get free domestic shipping, too, when you use the discount code HAPPYBIRTHDAY at checkout. Find Millie’s Tea Towels at the new Linens & Textiles link on our catalog page. Shop here!

Tea towels not your thing? Save $10 on your purchase of $75 on everything in the shop with discount code STREETFAIR, plus get free domestic shipping. Everything means everything! Artesenanías Mexicanas for Dia de Los Muertos, sparkly new Advent calendars from Germany, German and Swedish woodcrafts for Christmas, and lots more. Shop here!

 

 

Autumn Glow, or Your October Book of Days

We are well into autumn now. It is October, the Feast, today on this second day of the month, of the Guardian Angels, and this evening, with the setting sun, comes Sukkot in the Jewish calendar, a holiday known also as the Feast of Tabernacles. A lot of the holidays / holy days that are not in my own family’s tradition are things I experience peripherally, and this is the case with Sukkot, which I associate with citrus. In particular, it is the fruit called etrog that is part of the Sukkot holiday. It is a very thick skinned citrus with an intoxicating fragrance. I’ve only ever held one etrog, but the experience stuck with me, for scent is a great portal to memory, is it not?

And so this year this is how October begins, with angels and intoxicating fragrance. It is for us a time of birthdays, too: Seth’s birthday was on the 30th of September, and my mom, she turns 94 today on the 2nd. At least we think so. We always celebrated on the 3rd, but a few years ago documentation surfaced that suggested we’d been celebrating on the wrong day and that Mom was actually born on the 2nd. And yet stories persist that really support the idea that she was born on the 3rd, for her middle name is Rosaria, bestowed upon her because she was born on the Feast of the Madonna del Rosario… which is on the 7th, but is often moved to the First Sunday of October, and in 1926, guess what? The First Sunday of October was on the 3rd. Anyway, our policy now is pretty much to just celebrate both days. Things were no different with her father: we celebrated Grandpa’s birthday on the 23rd of November forever, but looking back at records, the 21st may have been more accurate. So. What can you do? Perhaps there are benefits to a nonchalant approach to things like birthdays.

Be that as it may, I am here today mainly to bestow our monthly gift upon you: it’s the Convivio Book of Days calendar, this time for October. Cover star: the beautiful barns at Chosen Land, the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community in Maine, with a maple in the foreground, glowing golden. Appropriate for so many reasons: 1) no place does autumn quite like New England; 2) Seth and I were visiting Chosen Land this very time of year two Octobers ago (and that’s when I snapped that photo); and 3) it is the month of Hallowe’en, a most spirited time of year, and I don’t think I know of any place that is so attuned to the spirits of those who have come and gone quite so much as Chosen Land. The Shakers were and are very welcoming to the idea that the spirit world is quite adjacent to the physical world, and mysteries run deep there. These are the things Seth and I like to tap into as this beautiful month unfolds and as we approach Hallowe’en at its close… which ushers in all the Days of the Dead that follow, through early November, to Martinmas on the 11th. The calendar will serve as a good companion to this blog, and to the annual Convivio Hallowe’en Dispatch from Lake Worth… and if you’d like to receive that story, please subscribe here. (The Convivio Dispatch is a whole other animal from the Convivio Book of Days Blog; it is a very occasional newsletter… but more often than not it’s not a newsletter at all and most definitely more of a story––essentially it is me, writing creative nonfiction.) If you don’t get it in your inbox already… well, I do think you’ll like getting it.

IN THE SHOP
October comes and we are closer to the height of our red letter days in the wheel of the year, the ones that brighten the darkness: Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead), and Advent, the precursor to Christmas. We heartily believe in the value of both: of remembering those who came before and keeping those channels open, and of a slow approach to Christmas. Please take a look, if you will, by clicking here. You’ll see pages devoted just to Dia de Muertos and to Advent, and to lots of other things… oh, and that’s my mom you’ll see there, the birthday girl herself, at the top of the page, fishing from a row boat, circa 1950.

Our very best wishes to you this golden October and these autumnal days. Please stay safe, please stay well, please treat each other as you would hope to be treated. Much love involved.

 

Angelic Days

This week, September transitions to October. An ending and a beginning in the midst of autumn and it is a week overseen by shining beings, for these are days traditionally given to angels: In three days’ time, on October the 2nd, we celebrate the Feast of the Guardian Angels, and today, the 29th of September, brings the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel––a day better known as Michaelmas.

The one that comes later is more personal, a day set aside to honor our personal guardian angels. It is a very old tradition, one that dates to the Fourth Century, when folks began setting up altars in their homes on the feast in honor of their angelic protectors. The one that comes today––Michaelmas (pronounced mick-il-mus)––begins with Michael the Archangel but has come to honor angels in general. Michaelmas is traditionally a night for a dinner of roast goose, and afterward, roasted nuts. But it is the humble blackberry that is most traditional for this day: In Scotland, there are Struan Micheil, Michaelmas bannocks, somewhat like a scone but more of a flatbread, cut into wedges, comprised of equal parts oats, barley, and rye, and traditionally made without the use of metal: wooden fork, wooden or ceramic bowl, baking stone. The bannocks are served with blackberries or blackberry jam, for it was Michael the Archangel who battled Satan, the fallen angel, and when Satan fell to Earth, it was in a bramble patch––a blackberry patch––that he landed. Legend has it that each year after Michaelmas, Satan returns to curse and spit upon the brambles that he landed upon, which is not so surprising: Bramble patches are thorny and painful. You’d probably curse and spit upon them, too, if you fell into a bramble patch. Be that as it may, many people will not eat blackberries after Michaelmas for this reason, and so they’ll eat their fill of the plump, juicy berries today.

My favorite part of this particular day, though, is that it is a chance to recite a litany of names––while Michaelmas is another old feast that comes out of the Catholic church, various traditions will honor today Michael as well as his companions, Gabriel and Raphael. Still others will include Uriel, Raguel, Ramiel, and Sariel. I love these names; they roll past my lips in an ancient and mysterious tongue, and the further down the roster we go, the more mysterious the names become. To speak them is to cross a fascinating linguistic bridge to the past. The “-el” suffix of these angelic names is Sumerian in origin, signifying “brightness” or “shining,” names that in their true form would be Micha-el, Gabri-el, Rapha-el, Uri-el, Ragu-el, Rami-el, Sari-el. The list goes on: Camael, Jophiel, Zadkiel, and Anael, Simiel and Oriphiel, then on to Metatron, Israfil, and Malak al-Maut. It is a walk across an ancient bridge of etymology that connects to the Akkadian ilu (radiant one), Babylonian ell (shining one), Old Welsch ellu (shining being), Old Irish aillil (shining), Anglo-Saxon aelf (radiant being), and English elf (shining being).

CALLING ALL ANGELS
Please join me tomorrow, 3 PM Eastern on Wednesday September 30, for Book Arts 101: Home Edition… it’s Episode 23 and this one is titled “Calling all Angels” and it is all about these angelic things, and more. Watch on Facebook Live and if you can’t make it at 3, worry not, video is posted immediately after the broadcast at our Facebook page.

A reminder, too, about our new embroidered protective face masks from Chiapas. Straight to the point: they are made by an extended family there whose traditional income source (tourism to Mexico) vanished with the pandemic. But in August, they began making face masks and they are just exquisite and you’ll love them and we love the fact that every purchase directly supports the family. They appreciate every order, and so do we. Click here to see them and to order… and yes, there are specials and free domestic shipping offers! (International orders? Write me at <mail@conviviobookworks.com> and we’ll see what we can do to get you a great price for shipping, too.)

Image: Detail from “Christ in the Arms of Two Angels” by Juan de Juanes. Oil on panel, c. 16th century. [Public domainvia Wikimedia Commons.

 

Tagged